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I have four minutes to bring to the attention of the new Ministers, whom I welcome, some practical suggestions. I have the amazing opportunity to bring together what the Secretary of State and Mr. Lansley said. The Secretary of State said that each patient must have a clear path to follow. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire pointed out the confusion about the path to follow for access to emergency care. That is what I want to talk about.
Ordinary patients have at least eight options for access to emergency care. They can dial 999; they can walk into an A and E department, a minor injuries unit or a walk-in centre; they can contact their GP if it is during the one third of the week when he or she is on duty; they can telephone the GP out-of-hours service; they can phone NHS Direct; or they can drop into a primary care out-of-hours centre. People are confused. Emergency access has to be clarified, and it is easy to clarify it. There must be just two options—go to the A and E if there happens to be one, or use a single telephone number.
If only the telephone triage service could be rationalised so that there was one number for everyone to phone across the country and a standardised triage system at the end of the phone, we would sort out the problems of access to emergency care in a moment. The huge point is that the Department of Health has the means to do that. I urge the Minister to look at NHS pathways, which has defined exactly the standard questionnaire that can sort out anybody. I tested it on a small boy who, sadly, died in my constituency as a result of inadequate triage. After about the fourth question, NHS pathways would have picked up the fact that the little boy needed to be admitted to hospital. I plead with Ministers to look at NHS pathways. It is being piloted in the north-east by the ambulance service there, which is to report in September 2007. It is being piloted in Croydon by the out-of-hours service, which is also to report in September 2007. The results are expected to show tremendous success and benefit.
I believe that NHS Direct should be limited to giving advice to patients about illnesses, and should not give advice on access to emergency care. Ministers should look at NHS pathways seriously to see why it cannot be rolled out to cover the whole country. It would have huge benefits, solve the problems with NHS Direct and release nurses to nurse, because the triage is so organised that it can be done by trained lay people. I urge the Minister to make it a high priority to create only two options for emergency care—A and E or a single phone number connected to NHS pathways.